SURVEY SAYS: What's on Tap for 401(k) Day?

September 2, 2004 ( - Believe it or not, ERISA is 30 years old today, and for several years now, the day after Labor Day has been tagged as "401(k) Day." This week we asked readers how they planned to commemorate the day.

None of this week’s survey respondents were planning a big celebration, but about 19% said they did have workplace plans.   Among that group was the reader who said, “We’re having a 403(b) day (non-profit hospital) where spokespersons from our TPA will be in to have one-on-one meetings with employees interested in signing up.   Also, they will be doing some general group-based presentations on our program with some videos and free promotional items (cups, mousepads, pens, etc.).   We have a match on our program after one year has been satisfied.   Anybody that signs up next week will have that match waiting period waived.   Doing some raffles with door prizes ranging anywhere from a free PTO day up to a Disney cruise for 4.   And the cafeteria will be serving only green foods on the day to symbolize the importance of savings (money).”

Other Plans

Another noted, “…we will celebrate 100% participation and a 12.5% average deferral, by sending an e-mail to everyone encouraging them to review their asset allocation and consider increasing their deferral rate.   Having a very competitive group of employees, we provide them their savings rate, as well as the range and average of others, and a reminder of the simple process to increase their savings rate.   We will also summarize the investment committee’s recent review of our core funds, which resulted in changing one fund that was not performing up to our Investment Policy guidelines.   We will also announce an upcoming 401(k) asset allocation education session.”

Another noted that, although their recordkeeper hadn’t mentioned it, “…when we became aware of it, we asked them for suggestions for what we can do.   They created and provided high quality posters for us to use to announce the day to our employees.   They also provided a selection of articles to use in our 401(k) newsletter that we distribute electronically.   Additionally, they are supplying a click-top ball point pen for us to distribute to our employees on 401(k) day.   We are crafting a memo to accompany the pen distribution.”   

“We are passing out Special K breakfast bars, along with communications for good financial health.   We hope to increase participation and gain exposure for our Plan.   We have several tables set up, across our various locations,” commented another.   Additionally, a number of respondents from provider firms said they had been kept hopping getting promotional materials out to their plan sponsor clients.

Other Voices

About 10% were opting for a “moment of silence.”   As one noted, “We peons will sit around complaining about how management OUGHT to start having a celebration/observation of 401k Day.   Nobody here knows much about it, but it sounds like an opportunity for the company to provide us with that most treasured employee benefit, free food.”   Yet another responded, “I anticipated 401(k) Day and made the appropriate plans.   I have a dentist appointment.”

“Thanks for reminding me of the reason that I live,” offered another, who went on to note, “If I can get my nose above the paperwork on my desk, I will offer thanks (not to Congress, but to a higher power) and then I will dive once more, unafraid, into plans, regulations, PLR’s, proposed legislation, continuing education, and client files.” Yet another said, “I opt for a moment of silence followed by soft weeping as I consider the 19-year passage of my career, youth, and vitality brought about by this industry.   I will whimsically remember the good old days of the balance forward plan and the summer fun and frolic with clients on the golf course as we discussed one time profit sharing contributions and a goal of having reports by no later than three months after the plan year end.   I will look fondly and lovingly on my book shelf at the collection of The Pension Answer Book and wonder aloud at how in the heck a Fourth Edition could be about one inch thick as compared to the 2004 Edition that requires me to wear a truss to pick it up (never mind the price!).

Another apparently found it difficult to choose a response because “…you didn’t say which day next week is designated as 401(k) day. Please tell us so we can prepare our celebrations. Second, for those of us in the business, we should count our blessings for job security in this industry. Third, for us baby boomers, pray that our 401(k) grows because we know social security is a black hole!”


However, for nearly three-quarters of this week’s respondents, the answer was “not at all” – and half of those – a full 33% of total respondents – had a response that could more properly be characterized as “Huh?”   That’s right, a significant number had not even heard of 401(k) day.   Here is a sampling:  “401(k) day?   You are kidding, right?   If not, has Hallmark heard about this?”…. “(e) What’s 401(k) day?   Did you just make this up?”…. “Have been involved in employee benefits for over 20 years and have never heard of 401(k) Day.   Has Hallmark created a line of greeting cards for this day yet?”…. “I don’t know where I’ve been for the last seven years I’ve been in this industry – this is a new one for me!”   And then, there was the reader who said, “Were they out of their minds when they came up with this?”


Now, I don’t remember when I first heard of 401(k) day – but the commemoration, a concept championed by the Profit-Sharing/401(k) Council of America, is now several years old.   It wasn’t always “celebrated” on the day after Labor Day.   As I recall, the first year (or two), it was actually held on 04/01…clever, until you remember that April Fool’s Day is perhaps NOT the best association for something as serious as retirement savings.

On the other hand, the passage of ERISA might not be the most applicable date either.   As one reader reminded us, “ERISA actually prohibited the establishment of new cash-or-deferred arrangements.   It was the Revenue Act of 1978 that brought them back with the addition of Section 401(k) to the Internal Revenue Code.   Thus, if any day is to be ‘401(k) Day’ it should be November 6, since the Revenue Act of 1978 was enacted onNovember 6, 1978 .”

But an even better notion (IMHO) came from the reader who noted, “I thought about inserting a stuffer in paychecks this Friday, even formatted a flier.   But with a newsletter already going into paychecks and considering that we’re now only 2 months since our last enrollment period (and closed until December), it didn’t appear to be the most beneficial or productive moment to beat the drum.   Perhaps if the ‘holiday’ were in December when most plans are enrolling, it might be a more useful attention-getter for the masses.”

LOTS of good Editor’s Choice fodder, obviously.   So much so that this week we’ll hand out a rare “runner up” award to the reader who said, “…How shall we celebrate?   Maybe Hallmark can develop greeting cards that are calculated to be understood by the average plan participant, but which no one reads.   How about a parade with everyone waving their quarterly statements, hardship withdrawal forms, and loan agreements?   Maybe a day of amnesty for market-timers, Enron execs, and those of us who have tried desperately but failed to keep pace with all the government regulations.”

But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to a reader who is commemorating the event this year…despite…we’ll let him tell you in his own words:  “Last year we encouraged people to dress as they would in retirement.   The bikinis and Speedos in the office caused us concern about violations of our dress code as well as potential se.xual harassment issues…so we will not be repeating that as part of 401(k) day this year.”

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!  You can find out MORE about 401(k) Day at